Rask Gets Bounce-Back Game he Needed

The Nashville Predators came calling on the Carolina Hurricanes Sunday, and the game turned out nicely for Victor Rask. The Hurricanes center has been struggling with his game, dating all the way back to last season, and was actually benched by head coach Bill Peters for two games. There was even some mild speculation that Rask might be on the auction block as a player the ‘Canes were willing to trade. When the final horn sounded later Sunday afternoon, Rask had been awarded the game’s first star.

Rask: “It’s nice to be out there.”

After the game, Peters said that making the decision to sit a player is not an easy one, but Rask seems to have responded. After noting that Rask had been a plus three against Toronto, Peters said,

“He was plus one again tonight with a goal and an assist, right. So, we need that out of him, we need that each and every night. That’s part of being a pro. He’s a big part of what we do, and we need him.”

Rask is a big part of the Hurricanes, and if he can regain whatever it was that he had missing since last season, it will be a big lift for the team. Many people were of the opinion that general manager Ron Francis should have gone out and gotten a scoring center during the off-season. I don’t disagree, however, if Rask can play to his ability, that need will be a lot less glaring.

Carolina Hurricanes center, Victor Rask
Carolina Hurricanes center, Victor Rask (Russell LaBounty-USA TODAY Sports)

I spoke with Rask after the game and asked him how he felt having to sit out a couple of games.

“I wasn’t playing well, so you know, it’s tough to be on the side,” Rask said. “We’re a really good team with a lot of good players and everyone wants to play, so you have to play your best all the time.”

I asked Rask if he could tell a difference coming back after sitting out and he said that, while it’s only been two games, he feels good and has been skating well, and that it is nice to be out there.

Two Teams, Opposite Ends

The Predators are one of the better teams in the NHL. They attracted 11,133 in their Sunday matinée contest with the Hurricanes. The Western Conference’s representative in the 2017 Stanley Cup Finals, is having what has become a typical season. They came into Raleigh’s PNC Arena with a 14-6-2 record, their 30 points placing them in third place in the Central Division behind the St. Louis Blues and the Winnipeg Jets. On paper, the Predators should dominate the division. On the other hand, the Hurricanes were looking for a chance to redeem the week, which saw them get blown out by the New York Rangers, 6-1, and lose to the Toronto Maple Leafs, 5-4.

Mattias Ekholm Predators
Mattias Ekholm had two points for Nashville Predators against the Carolina Hurricanes (Amy Irvin / The Hockey Writers)

Prior to the game, the Hurricanes record was 9-8-4, with 22 points. The team sat three slots back in the Wild Card race, five points behind the Pittsburgh Penguins who, at 27 points, held the second Wild Card position. Both teams are having typical seasons, thus far. The Predators are winning regularly and are expected to make the playoffs. The Hurricanes are winning sporadically, and their frustrated fans are hoping yet again that their team will make the playoffs. Sadly for hockey in Carolina over the past several years, the more things have changed, the more they have stayed the same.

The Hurricanes need better, more consistent play all across their roster. Rask is no exception. If they are ever going to break through the barrier of mediocrity and build a program such as the Predators’ that can count on winning as a norm instead of losing, then players like Rask, Jeff Skinner, and Justin Faulk need to be legitimate threats every time they are on the ice.

Rask Takes a Step Forward

With the Predators not playing Pekka Rinne against the Hurricanes, but instead starting backup goalie, Juuse Saros, the path to the net should have been a little wider. And for the most part, it was, with the Hurricanes getting three goals in regulation. One of those was this greasy goal from Rask, who was at the right place at the right time to score:

This is the kind of thing that Rask has to have at the front of his mind, get in front of the net and fight for those goals shot from right in front. Peters calls them “greasy goals” or dirty goals, and they are the type of goal that is not easily scored, but essential for a team to win consistently. Rask will find his game much easier by working hard and going to the net, than by bombing away from the blue line.

Rask also got an assist on this power play goal by Justin Williams:

In the end, Saros did okay standing in for Rinne but was no match for the Hurricanes in the shootout. The 4-3 loss still gave a point to the Predators, but more importantly, the Hurricanes got the two points they had to have from that game. They don’t worry if a Western Conference foe gets a point at this stage of the season, but they do have to get all of the points they possibly can, from all their games.

The Predators won’t give Rask a second thought. But, having a good game is a good start for Rask. He needs to build on good games, one after the other until he is back in form completely and even better. Peters is right in saying that the team needs him.